EDITORIAL: The CDC’s emergency tenant protection should expire

As pandemic-weary Americans seek a return to normalcy, emergency measures instituted to help slow the virus’ spread linger and obstruct the way. A government-ordered housing eviction moratorium is one such measure. While it may have made sense in 2020 to prohibit renters made jobless by the coronavirus-triggered economic crash from being put out on the street, the rapid disappearance of the deadly disease means the unprecedented regulation has outlived its purpose. It should end.

Wielding the powerful tools of authority has consequences, and not all of them are helpful. When the Trump Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) activated emergency powers to allow millions of cash-strapped Americans to remain safe in their homes rent-free, legions of landlords faced their own financial struggles. Fortunately, the 2020 Cares Act provided relief in the form of mortgage forbearance, but its impending June 30 expiration means it’s time to restore the housing system’s customary economic function.

Accordingly, landlord organizations have challenged the CDC’s eviction moratorium in federal court. Last week, Judge Dabney Friedrich of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down the eviction ban. Pressed to recognize the Biden administration’s “strong interest in controlling the spread of COVID-19 and protecting public health,” however, she issued a temporary stay of her ruling while the CDC appeals the decision.

As threatening as the coronavirus has been to human life, there is no cancellation — or even limited suspension — of American rights to be found in the U.S. Constitution on account of disease. Property rights are fundamental, and the fortunate consequence of the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, which reads, in part: “Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

The initial eviction moratorium was declared in September as a temporary measure to prevent workers left jobless and penniless owing to the pandemic from losing their domiciles. It is still in effect, though, even while more than 50 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated and the unemployment rate has fallen from a high of 15 percent to 6.1 percent.

Moreover, pandemic-induced financial hardship has been far from universal. Personal savings rate, normally around 5 percent of income, soared to 33 percent in April 2020 when coronavirus stay-at-home orders kept Americans bottled up. The savings rate has since bounced up and down in concert with peaks and valleys of COVID-19 deaths. The explosion of consumer spending accompanying the traditional Memorial Day kickoff of vacation season indicates that while millions have suffered economic setbacks, millions more have piled up extra cash.

Now that the coronavirus vaccines are available to all adults and many children, Americans are dropping their fears and rushing out to spend, spend, spend the money they saved while sitting at home for a long, long year. It’s a sign that the time has arrived to end draconian, pandemic-era measures like the eviction moratorium.

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